While some global economic indicators suggest an economic recovery is getting underway in earnest, research released earlier this month by global accountancy Grant Thornton LLP (and co-sponsored by the Association for Corporate Growth) argues that a fresh wave of business bankruptcy is nevertheless about to wash over US Bankruptcy Courts.
In “The Debt Effect“, a white paper addressing the present state of private equity, Grant Thornton’s Harris Smith – Los Angeles-based head of the firm’s Private Equity practice group – agrees that “[a] global recovery is under way, albeit slowly, and there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about 2010 and beyond.” Against that backdrop, however, he cautions the arrival of a nascent global recovery does not mean deal-making and the lending supporting it will immediately return to its prior levels – or that it will all look the same as before when it does. More importantly, he demonstrates that additional corporate distress is likely on the way.
Specifically, Harris notes that mergers and acquisition activity remains at levels that are a mere fraction of what the same activity was during 2006 and 2007. Moreover, a significant portion of deals done earlier in the decade are now in jeopardy: According to Moody’s, over 50 percent of the deals done between 2004 and 2007 by big private equity funds are now either in default or distress. Many of these situations have been addressed – at least temporarily – through debt extensions and other types of forbearance. But many of these temporary fixes are set to expire. Moreover, Harris’ research projects that “[t]he number of maturating loans will steadily increase until it peaks in 2013. The opportunities for distress buyers will continue to grow during this time because many companies will not be able to meet their debt obligations.”
According to Grant Thornton’s Marti Kopacz, national managing principal of the firm’s Corporate Advisory and Restructuring Services, “We expect the restructuring wave to be a three- to five-year wave. This is only the first year.”